Cuevano ~ Jorge Aranda

Over a Hundred Years of Research

I agree with everything Greg Wilson wrote here, and I had been thinking along similar lines after recent incidents such as:

In all of these cases, reactions from humanities academics tend to express an exasperation with how little society minds them. "Ha, Cathy O'Neil is laughable, there's entire research centres dedicated to this!" "Pfff, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, may I introduce you to the fields of Epistemology and Science and Technology Studies? You may like them." "Geez Twitter, we've been researching status for over a hundred years. Why doesn't anybody study this?" And, to some extent, I see where these critiques come from. After all, if you have dedicated your life to the study of a problem, and the world seems to ignore your work, or to pretend you're not around, it's understandable if you feel frustrated. But I think this natural reaction is misguided.

As I see it, the mission of academia is twofold: to explore outstanding questions, and to explain our understanding to the rest of society. Research without dissemination leads to isolation, to the ivory tower; dissemination without research, to stagnation. From this stance, evidence that the public knows nothing about your decades of volumes and treatises should be classified as a failure of your field; a failure to fulfill your mission. The healthy reaction to cases like the above should be "hmm, how can we make ourselves clearer?", not "lol look at these ignoramuses."

I did interdisciplinary research. Coming from computer science, I studied, and truly enjoyed, sociology, epistemology, philosophy, and organizational science. But it was not easy to crack them, and most people in the mainstream don't have the time, the resources, or the inclination to do a second degree. The idea that the average person is going to meet you where you are is a fantasy; the task and the challenge is to meet them where they are. So, if your field is over a hundred years old— where are its entry points for lay people? Where are the texts that present the findings that citizens and policy makers should know, in an accessible format and without sacrificing substance? Where are the articles or blog posts where regular folks can learn about new developments? If these don't exist, or if they can't yet be produced because research is inconclusive, or because these are genuinely thorny concepts, then that's hardly a failure to pin on the confused lay person, and you should not wear your rarefied isolation as a badge of honour.